The Maasai are one of the many southern-most tribes located in Kenya. They are
physically related, and also in many other forms related to the Samburu and Turkana. The
Maasai have a relatively complex culture and traditions. In fact, for many years they were
unheard of. By the late 1800's we soon discovered more about the Maasai, mostly from
their oral histories.
It is presumed that the Maasai came from the north, probably from the region of
the Nile Valley in Sudan. Also presumed is that they left this area sometime between the
fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, migrating southwards towards he Great Rift Valley.
According to the Maasai oral history, they came from a crater or deep valley somewhere
to the north, at a place called Endikir-e-Kerio . Although many scholars have called
this place the southeastern region of Lake Turkana, many of the oral histories say that
they may have come from further up north, near the Nile river. Whichever location this
is, the migration was caused by a dry spell. According to the Maasai a bridge was
built, and after half the livestock and people had left the dry area, the bridge collapsed,
leaving back the other half of the population. These people later climbed out of the valley,
and were helped by the present day Somali, Borana and Rendille peoples. The Maasai later
entered Kenya, and moved south through the Rift Valley, where there was pasture for
their cattle. Because there was very little surface water, the Maasai resorted to pastoralism
instead of agriculture.
The Maasai have adapted to their environment to ensure survival
and the maintenance of their culture.
The Maasai have adapted to the conditions of their environment through their
religious rituals, which function in keeping their political structure, and maintaining cattle
numbers. The idea of religion in the Maasai culture is attatched with the importance they
place on the stages of life. Spear indicates that for the Maasai, God is close yet completely
unknowable. Each ritual transition between age-groups is a step toward old age and
metaphorically a step toward God. According to Emily McAlpin in "The Maasai culture
and Ecological Conditions" the most important event in the ceremony is the
sharing of meat which brings all participants closer to God. Prophets provide a number of
important religious services. They are responsible for divining and healing sickness,
making protective medicines for the initiation of age-sets, and approving the raids by the
warriors. The rituals and ceremonies that the Maasai participate in give added importance
to the lives they lead. With every ceremony that celebrates the step to a more
distinguished age, the added responsibilities given to that person are celebrated. Their
contribution in the society is elevated as well as their honor.
Age is the greatest influence in Maasai society. Other ways of defining status by
age pertain to women; these are called "age-grades". While the age-set is only for
initiated men, women can obtain a higher age-grade after marriage. Age-grades are the
consecutive statuses that individuals are given in the course of their lives. The
rights that are given to women as they progress through age groups include the
responsibilities of herds, land and families. The ceremonies that occur for these passages
through age are important in keeping this established tradition.
The most important ages for both men and women are between 15 and 18.This is
when the girls and boys are initiated into adulthood through the act of circumcision. After
the act of circumcision, both boys and girls are able to take on new responsibilities in their
community, including the right to marry and hold land and cattle for themselves. When a
mother sends her son to be initiated, she presents him with pendants known as...
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